Eschatological Confusion Part 3: The Millennium

millennium

In Part 1 we surveyed the issues surrounding eschatology. Part 2 focused on the timing of the rapture. Now in Part 3 we will turn our attention to the millennium.

The “millennium” refers to a one thousand (1,000) year period, more specifically, the 1,000 year period mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6.

“1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. 3 He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the 1,000 years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time.

“4 Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. I also saw the people who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of God’s word, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of the Messiah, and they will reign with Him for 1,000 years.”

This is the only place in Scripture where the millennium is explicitly mentioned. Scholars find other places they think it might be mentioned, but that is highly debated.

As you can tell from the text of Revelation 20 above, the millennium concerns Satan’s binding and Christ’s and the saints’ reign on earth. The concept of a “reign” carries with it the idea of a kingdom. In this case, that would be the kingdom of God, the good news of which Jesus spent His entire ministry proclaiming (cf. Luke 4:43). Therefore the questions surrounding the millennium are questions surrounding the kingdom of God. The questions are many:

-Have we experienced this kingdom in its fullest sense or is there more to come?

-Is this 1,000 year period literal or figurative?

-When will this period of time begin?

-Could we currently be living in the millennium?

These and more are the questions we will wrestle with in this post.

The Kingdom of God
The kingdom of God has been around since the creation of the world. Adam and Eve had a chance to obey God and make a good kingdom decision, but instead listened to the voice of Satan. Noah did listen to God’s voice and was a part of His kingdom, while the others of his generation were not. In Genesis 12 Abraham was chosen to be the earthly father of this kingdom, eventually leading to the 12 tribes. In Genesis 49:10 it was prophesied that “the scepter will not depart from Judah,” suggesting one from this tribe will be the earthly king over God’s kingdom. This prophecy was realized when King David was installed as king over Israel and it held true as his sons continued to reign over Judah (the southern kingdom) for years to come.

When we fast forward to the New Testament, we learn that Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy. Luke 1:32-33 tells us that Jesus (who is from the family line of David) will “be given the throne of His father David” and that “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” God sent Jesus to this earth to be the final and perpetual king of His kingdom. During His earthly ministry, Jesus proclaimed this kingdom (Luke 4:43), told parables concerning this kingdom (Luke 13:18-21), performed signs of this kingdom (Luke 7:21-22), and talked of this kingdom’s final and coming consummation (Luke 13:28-29; 22:16).

But when will that consummation be? When will believers experience God’s kingdom in all its fullness? Historically (and to keep it simple), there have been three answers to that question. Premillennialists posit that the end of the seven year tribulation will bring about the millennium, and that after those 1,000 years God’s kingdom will be consummated. Postmillennialists believe we are currently in the millennium, a span of time that will be concluded when Jesus returns and brings the kingdom. Finally, amillennialists suggest that the millennium is not a literal thousand year period, but that it lasts from Christ’s first to second comings.

Premillennialism
There are a few differing types of premillennialism, but I will focus on historic premillennialism. Those from this camp understand the 1,000 year reign of Christ spoken of in Revelation 20 to be literal and believe it will occur after Christ’s second coming and prior to the final consummation of God’s kingdom. Most historic premillennialists also believe in a pretribulation rapture, so here is the way they see the end of time playing out: (1) rapture of the church, (2) seven year tribulation, (3) second coming of Christ, (4) millennial reign of Christ, (5) eternity (kingdom of God fully consummated). This position presents the most literal and straight-forward reading of Revelation 20.

Postmillennialism
The postmillennial position involves the belief that the kingdom of God is currently being extended into the world through the proclamation of the gospel. As a result, the world will eventually be Christianized and enter into a prolonged period of peace and righteousness. As believers fulfill the Great Commission, the kingdom grows and this world is redeemed.

Following this period, Christ will return, setting into action the resurrection, the judgment, and the rest of eternity (the consummation of God’s kingdom). According to this view, the millennium, which involves the reign of Christ over this earth, is not necessarily a future event that will commence after His return, but is something this world may currently be experiencing. As a result, there is no need to believe that the millennium refers to a literal thousand year period.

Postmillennialists have differing views on other events, such as the rapture and the tribulation, but the main thing is that they place the millennium of Revelation 20 before any of them.

Amillennialism
Much like postmillennialists, amillennialists do not believe that the 1,000 year period mentioned in Revelation 20 is literal. As apocalyptic literature, the book/letter of Revelation uses symbolism to convey its message, therefore suggesting it cannot be understood literally (as the premillennialist understands it). Here is an amillennialist’s interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6:

Christ’s birth and death is what bound Satan, what secured the victory over sin and death for all believers. Yet that victory is not yet fully realized. Satan still has some say in this world, but he can no longer keep people from believing the good news of Jesus Christ. These earthly events are what Revelation 20:1-3 depicts. Moving on to the next three verses, which take place in heaven during this time period, we see people sitting on thrones and reigning with Christ. In these verses the word resurrection does not refer to a literal and bodily resurrection but to the fact that believers who die are not really dead, for their souls are in heaven with Christ. This first resurrection refers to a believer’s spiritual resurrection immediately following death. “The rest,” who do not come alive until the end of this unspecified period of time, are all the non-believers, whose end will be the second death and the lake of fire. But for all those who experienced the first resurrection, they will also experience the second one (which will be a bodily resurrection), and the second death will have no power over them. This refers to the fact that all believers will be made alive and transformed and will reign with Christ forever.

Because they do not hold to a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ, amillennialists have differing perspectives on other eschatological events.

Where Do I Stand?
I hope that I am never forced to choose between any of these positions because I have difficulties with each of them. They each have elements with which I agree and disagree, or at least question. So instead of naming the view I hold to, let me briefly sketch the conclusion I have come to.

Christ’s first coming, including His birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection, ushered the kingdom of God onto this earth in a way it had never been experienced before. When He ascended into heaven, He did not take the kingdom with Him. It is still here for you and I and Jesus is still the King, ruling and reigning from the Father’s right hand. Therefore the kingdom is a present reality; it has been realized in some sense. We can experience its power here and now on this earth. Yet there is more to come. The kingdom has not reached its full potential (it has not been fully consummated/experienced). There is no doubt that Satan still has some say in the matter. Christ’s death and resurrection won the war, but there are still some battles to be fought.

At some point, believers will reign with Christ. In my book Revelation 20:4-6 makes that clear. The question, though, is two-fold: how and when will they reign? Will this be a literal 1,000 year reign that will take place after Christ returns? Or is this a symbolic rule taking place now in which living believers serve as Christ’s vice-regents on this earth and sleeping believers reign with Him from heaven? Obviously the answer depends on your interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6, which depends on the hermeneutic (method of interpretation) used.

As the amillennial position points out, Revelation is highly symbolic and cannot always be interpreted literally. If I absolutely had to make a decision, I would choose to understand the millennium as symbolic. Satan is currently bound and believers are currently reigning with Christ. At some point Satan will be released (Rev. 20:3, 7-8), which could possibly begin the tribulation. After the tribulation, which will be limited because of the elect (according to Jesus; Matt. 24:22), the Son of Man will return to rapture His children while the current heavens and earth are burned up and the new is created (2 Peter 3:10-12). Then the kingdom of God will be consummated and, according to Revelation 22:5, we will “reign forever and ever.”

As you can tell, my view concerning the millennium is not set in stone. Therefore my purpose in writing this is not necessarily to sway you any certain way. Instead, my goal is to educate you on the issues and inspire you to dive deeper into them on your own. In the end, my prayer is that you would be challenged and changed by God and His Word.

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Eschatological Confusion Part 2: The Rapture

Rapture 1

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the major issues surrounding end-time events. In Part 2 we will focus our attention on the rapture.

As mentioned in Part 1, the term “rapture” is never actually used in Scripture, but the concept is. While consoling the believers in Thessalonica concerning their fellow church members who had fallen asleep (died), Paul spoke of the time when “we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…” (1 Thes. 4:17). In this passage, the “we” refers to Paul and all the believers in Thessalonica (and as an extension, believers anywhere). “Them” refers to believers who have already fallen asleep. Therefore Paul speaks of a day when all believers, whether dead or alive, will be joined together with each other, and most importantly, with Christ. This idea of being “caught up together” is where we derive the concept of the rapture from.

The idea of the rapture is only mentioned a few other places in Scripture. In 2 Thessalonians 2:1, Paul again writes concerning “the coming our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him.” In His Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, Jesus also seems to mention the rapture. In 24:31 He says, “He [the Son of Man] will send out His angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” This meshes well with 1 Thessalonians 4:16, where angels and a trumpet are also mentioned. In fact, there are more than 10 similarities between Jesus and Paul’s discussions of the rapture and other eschatological events that can be found in Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 4-5. Paul also mentions trumpet blasts and the raising of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52.

As you can tell from the compatible mentions in Scripture, the event of the rapture itself is not in question. The question is not will Christ rapture His people. The question concerning the rapture is when it will take place. This issue is tied up with what we know as the “tribulation.”

The discussion about the tribulation begins in Daniel 9:27. Daniel prophesies that the antichrist will make a covenant with God’s people for “one week,” which equates to seven years. Therefore it is believed that the tribulation will last for these seven years. Daniel also says that in the middle of this week (three and a half years into it), the abomination of desolation will take place in the temple. This seems to speak of a more intensified time of persecution towards Christians. When you fast forward to the New Testament, you find Jesus mentioning very similar things. When asked by the disciples what the signs of His coming and the end of the age will be, Jesus told of persecution, deception, the “abomination that causes desolation,” and even the “great tribulation” (Matt. 24:3-28). Paul also hints at a time of tribulation in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, as does John the Revelator.

Scripture is clear that both of these events, the tribulation and the rapture, will take place. The question is, which will happen first? Will God’s people be raptured before the tribulation, so they will not have to endure it (pretribulationism)? Will they endure the first half of it but be raptured before the last three and a half years of intense persecution (midtribulationism)? Or will believers be present for the entire period and be raptured afterwards (posttribulationism)? There are proponents for all three views…

Pretribulationism
Those who advocate a pretribulation rapture are certainly the most hopeful. If given the choice, who would want to believe Christians would have to endure the tribulation? This hope is specifically based on two main passages: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Revelation 3:10.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 Paul describes the rapture. Then, in 5:1-11, he further explains things, including the mention of “the Day of the Lord,” which possibly refers not to a single day but to the entire seven year tribulation (according to pretribulationists; based on Old Testament texts). In 5:4 Paul speaks to the believers and says, “But you, brothers, are not in the dark, so that this day would not overtake you like a thief.” The pretribulationist takes this to mean that believers will not be overtaken by the tribulation, suggesting believers will be raptured before the seven year period. But is that what Paul said? He didn’t say that it wouldn’t overtake them at all, he simply said it wouldn’t overtake them like a thief. The point is not that believers will be gone before this day, but that this day will not catch them off guard like a thief in the night. They will be well-prepared, for they are in the light; they have been warned ahead of time that this day is coming.

Revelation 3:10 is part of Christ’s letter to the church at Philadelphia, and it reads, “Because you have kept My command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to  come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” Pretribulationists believe that Jesus is referring to the tribulation when He mentions the “hour of testing.” This, though, is debated. If they are correct, they believe the way Christ will “keep” them from this testing/tribulation is by means of the rapture. Yet there is much debate with this translation. Does the Greek word used mean they will be protected by means of removal or that they will be protected though present? Both are possible, leaving the interpretation of this passage at a stand still.

Midtribulationism
Combining texts from Daniel and the New Testament, midtribulationists believe that believers (the church) must be present for some of the tribulation, but not necessarily for all of it. As mentioned above, Daniel 9:27 speaks of a seven year tribulation against God’s people, with the abomination of desolation taking place at the midway point (three and a half years). In Matthew 24:15 Jesus indicates that the disciples and other believers will be around to see this abomination that Daniel spoke of, which suggests they won’t be raptured before the tribulation begins. But for the midtribulationist, this doesn’t mean the church will be around for the entire seven years.

In two scenes from Revelation (6-8 and 14-16) depicting God’s wrath being poured out, midtribulationists see the rapture occurring before the worst of it is released. They say this indicates that the church will be present for the wrath of the first six seals of Rev. 6, but not for the seventh and final seal of Rev. 8. Likewise, before the bowls of judgment are poured out in Rev. 15-16, the rapture occurs in Rev. 14. In both of John’s illustrations, the rapture seems to takes place before the wrath of God is fully experienced. Therefore God’s people, the church, may be present when the tribulation begins, but will possibly be raptured before its completion, prior to Christ’s return.

The evidence for believers being present during the tribulation is strong and reliable (which is tough for pretribulationists to handle). After all, why would Jesus, Daniel, Paul, and others all warn believers about the tribulation if they would be raptured before it took place? But still, the evidence for believers to be raptured in the middle of the tribulation is weak. Before making a decision, we should take a look at the final position: posttribulationism.

Posttribulationism
No believer necessarily wants to hold a posttribulation view and wish seven years of tribulation on themselves. Yet posttribulationists find in Scripture that this might be the case. When Paul mentions the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, he does not mention that its purpose is to escape something such as the tribulation. Instead, he says the purpose of the rapture is for all believers, whether dead or alive, to be joined with each other and with Christ, and to be with Him “always.”

Most people understand the rapture to be an event where believers are snatched off the earth and taken to heaven, but Scripture does not explicitly explain it that way. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says that the Lord will descend and that all believers, whether dead or alive, will meet the Lord in the air. So Christ leaves heaven above, and believers leave earth below, but obviously everyone doesn’t just remain in the air. The question is: Does everyone return to heaven or to earth? We automatically assume heaven, but we should be careful about this. The Greek word used in v17 explaining believers will “meet” the Lord in the air is a word often used in Greek literature to describe a delegation of people going to meet a visiting dignitary before ushering him back to their (the delegate’s) city. Applying this understanding to the word would suggest that believers go to meet the Lord in the air and then they all return to the earth (most likely to begin the millennial reign).

Jesus also gives evidence that believers will not be taken before the tribulation. As was mentioned above, He said in Matthew 24:15 that believers would be present for the abomination of desolation. He goes on in 24:21 to mention the “great tribulation,” explaining how terrible it will be, but says that those days will be limited “because of the elect” (believers). This suggests that believers (the elect) will be present during the entire tribulation; it is because of their presence that it will be limited. Furthermore, Jesus explicitly states in 24:29 that, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days” signs will occur and people will “see the Son of Man coming” and “He will send His angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” Jesus clearly states that His people will be gathered (raptured) “after the tribulation.”

Where Do I Stand?
Being raised in the Baptist faith, I grew up hearing about and believing in a pretribulational rapture. How could a loving God make His people go through such an intense time of suffering? Why would He not rapture them before pouring out this wrath? The argument makes sense, and it is hard for me to let go of it, but posttribulationists present a very convincing argument that the saints will be on earth during the tribulation yet will be protected through it.

I have long been aware of the eschatological texts such as Daniel 7-12, the Olivet Discourse, 1 Thessalonians 4-5, and Revelation, but have always had trouble reconciling them. Each position concerning the rapture attempts to do this, but posttribulationism makes the most sense. Everything Jesus says in His Olivet Discourse leads me to believe His people will not be raptured and joined together with Him until after the final period of great tribulation. Jesus is clear that His followers (both then and now) will experience persecution, and that the abomination that causes desolation spoken of in Daniel will bring about a time of tribulation that is even worse. The key is that He says all these things, both the general persecutions and the great tribulation, will take place before He comes to rapture His people (in Matt. 24:29-31).

Outside of Jesus and the Gospels, Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5 also lead me to believe the rapture is posttribulational. Contrary to what I used to believe, Paul isn’t saying that believers will escape the judgement, only that the judgment will not sneak up on them like a thief. Both houses will be broken into, only some homeowners will be prepared and some won’t be. Another problem I always had with a pretribulation rapture that is solved by posttribulationalism is the fact that if the rapture precedes the tribulation, Christ has to return twice. He would have to come before the tribulation to rapture believers, then return afterwards to set up His kingdom. The Bible doesn’t speak of a third coming, only a first and second. For all of these reasons and others, I lean towards a posttribulational view of the rapture.

But what if you don’t? What if I haven’t convinced you? Well that’s OK! Let me make it very clear that this is a secondary issue. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it, though. It simply means that whatever you choose to believe concerning this issue will have no effect on your salvation. All we need to believe is that Jesus will return at some point.

But we all want to know when that day will come. We all want to know when we will see our Savior coming to rescue us. The thing is, not even Jesus knows when that day will come. In Matthew 24:36 He said, “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows—neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son—except the Father only.” If even Jesus doesn’t know, why should we expect to know? And if we can’t know, then why worry about it?

We have more important things to do than worry. We have a mission to complete. We only have so many days left until Jesus returns, and we need to spend those days sharing the gospel with those who have never received it. In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus told His disciples in Acts 1:6-8. When they asked about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel in v6, He told them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Will you be His witness until He returns?

Eschatological Confusion Part 1: Introduction and Overview

Eschatology

In the Greek language, the word eschatos means “last.” Hence the theological field known as “eschatology” refers to the study of last things, or the study of the end of time. Now there are many theological issues that create debate, but there is no bigger debate than when it comes to eschatology.

As a Christian, a pastor, and a recent Bible college and seminary graduate, I am obviously interested in eschatology and am always trying to develop my own scriptural understanding of how things will play out at the end of time. Common questions I often ask myself include the following:

-When will the rapture take place? Before, during, or after the tribulation?

-How long will the tribulation last? Will it be a literal seven years, or will it be longer? Could we possibly already be in the tribulation?

-What about the millennium (1,000 years)? Will it be a literal 1,000 years? Have those years began yet, or are they still in the future?

-What exactly does the book of Revelation convey to us about these end-time events?

Growing up in a Southern Baptist church (the son of a pastor), I knew all the “Sunday School” answers. The general Southern Baptist belief is that the tribulation will last 7 years, and then after that, Jesus will return. But, before the tribulation begins, Jesus will rapture all believers so they will not have to endure it. Pretty simple, right? What could be so confusing about that? Why is there even any debate? Let me share with you some of my journey concerning eschatology…

One of the elective courses I signed up for at Criswell College as a part of my Master’s degree was called “Theology Intensive: Eschatology.” The four textbooks for the course were the following: “Three Views on the Rapture” (Blaising, Hultberg, and Moo; Zondervan 2010), “The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views” (Boettner, Hoekema, Hoyt, and Ladd; IVP 1977), “Four Views on Hell” (Crockett, Hayes, Pinnock, and Walvoord; Zondervan 1996), and “Four Views on the Book of Revelation” (Gentry, Hamstra, Pate, and Thomas; Zondervan 1998). You see, there isn’t just one view on any of these eschatological topics. Brilliant scholars, individuals who have devoted their lives to studying the Scriptures, cannot agree when it comes to these things. So why should we, pastors and church members, believe that we have it all figured out?

Now I am aware that most, if not all of you who are reading this probably believe the way I described above, the way most traditional Southern Baptists believe, the way I once believed. Before we precede any further, let me say this: I am not saying that I am right and you and wrong. What I am saying is this: When it comes to eschatology, we need to approach the Scriptures with an open mind. This is not so that we can make the Bible say whatever we want it to say (as postmodernists do), but so that we can understand the truth it is trying to convey. We have a bad habit of imposing our thoughts on the text instead of letting the text inform our thoughts. We need to break this habit!

In Part 1 of this blog series called “Eschatological Confusion” I want to lay out for you four major issues, the issues discussed in each of the four textbooks named above. Then, in the following weeks, we will delve further into each of the issues.

The Rapture
Interestingly enough, the word “rapture” is never used in the New Testament. Nevertheless, the word has been used for many years to describe the event Paul discusses in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…”

The major issue when it come to the rapture is not if it will occur, but rather when it will occur. Will believers be raptured before the tribulation, halfway through the tribulation, or not until after the tribulation?

The Millennium
The “Millennium” is the name given to the 1,000 year span of time mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6. John the Revelator twice mentions that some will reign with the Messiah “for 1,000 years.”

The major issue concerning the millennium is two-fold: (1) Will this be a literal 1,000 year period, and (2) If so, when will it begin?

Hell
What’s so confusing about hell? Isn’t it a fiery place where people will be separated from God for eternity? That’s what the Bible seems to say, but of course, not everyone can agree on that.

There are many debated issues when it comes to hell, including:

-A literal vs. a figurative place

-An eternal vs. a temporary place (annihilation)

-A place of separation/punishment vs. a place of the dead (purgatory)

The Book of Revelation
Jesus, Paul, and others all discussed eschatological issues in their teachings and letters, but when it comes to this topic, Revelation gets the most attention. Because of the nature and subject of the book, there should be no surprise that interpretations vary.

-Have all of the events prophesied in Revelation already been fulfilled? Have some been fulfilled? Have none been fulfilled?

-What do all of the symbols and numbers mean? Do they stand for specific figures in history?

-Will all of the events eventually come to pass? If so, when will this be?

Conclusion
As you can tell, the issues are many, and the answers aren’t simple. Please join me on this journey into eschatology and see what we can learn. As always, my prayer is that we will be challenged and changed by it all!

The Bible and Eating

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When I recently told someone I was going to speak on the Bible and eating, they quickly responded, “Will your focus be on fellowship or gluttony?” Both topics are discussed in Scripture, but I assured the person I would not be touching on the gluttony aspect, and that will be the case for this article as well.

Take a second to consider all the times the Bible discusses food and eating. If you do some good brainstorming, you might be surprised how often the topic actually comes up. Think about it…

What did the very first sin involve? Adam and Eve eating fruit from the forbidden tree in the middle of the garden (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6).

What do many of the Old Testament purity laws involve? Which foods a good Jew could and could not eat. They were to eat “clean” animals, but were to refrain from “unclean” ones (Lev. 11:1-23).

What did Daniel and his three friends request after being taken to Babylon? To not be fed the royal food and drink of the king and instead to be given vegetables and water (Daniel 1).

Fast forward to the New Testament…

What does Jesus so often compare the Kingdom of God to in the Gospel of Luke? To a banquet or a feast (Luke 13:28-29; 14:7-24; 15:23-24, 32).

What was one of the last things Jesus did with His disciples before His death? He shared a meal, the Passover supper, with them (Matt. 22:17-30).

After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, what was one of the four things the members of the first church devoted themselves to? The breaking of bread (Acts 2:42), which involved not only the Lord’s Supper but a full meal for everyone in the church.

What were the New Testament authors Peter and Jude worried about in their respective letters? Outsiders (non-believers) eating meals with the local church and disrupting the fellowship and unity of the believers (2 Ptr. 2, see especially vv12-14; Jude, see especially vv12-13).

Finally, how does the book of Revelation describe the end of time when all believers (the church; the bride) will be joined with Christ (the groom)? As a marriage feast (Rev. 19:9), which includes a banquet and a full meal.

So you see, the Bible is full of discussion about food and eating. The question is, why? Why does the Bible have so much to say on this topic?

Of course, there is not just one answer to that question. There are many reasons why the Bible discusses food and in places even commanded people which foods they could and could not eat. But there is one reason in particular that I want to focus on. The Bible, especially the New Testament, says so much about food and eating because it was a huge part of the Roman Empire’s culture.

The background and setting for the entire New Testament is the first century Roman Empire. During this time period, Rome and king Caesar ruled the world. Rome loved to control its citizens, and there were a number of ways they did that. One way they controlled the masses was through the institution of voluntary associations, which, functionally, were supper clubs. Essentially everyone in Rome, from the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor, was part of a voluntary association. But there were divisions. The wealthy joined associations with other wealthy members. The poor did the same. Artisans associated with other artisans. Other craftsmen did the same. This being the case, everyone in Rome had their place and knew their place in society, and it was seldom subject to change.

These associations would gather, either weekly or monthly, to have a meal (called the deipnon) and a time of discussion and/or entertainment (called the symposion). At these banquets, people would form their identity as individuals based on the identity and beliefs of the group as a whole. So in all reality, the identity of the individual was based on that of the group. As these people bonded around the supper table, they became one.

Now what does all of this have to do with the Bible? When Jesus left the apostles behind to begin the New Testament church, and when Paul and others began planting churches all over the Roman Empire, they each took the form of a voluntary association. Church gatherings consisted of a group meal followed by a time of discussion and teaching. During these banquets, which served as the early church’s “worship services,” fellow believers would sit around the table with each other, create a bond, and form an identity. And who was that identity based on? None other than Jesus Christ the resurrected Lord.

Because society as a whole, and especially the church, centered on these meals/banquets, the authors of the New Testament made sure to give food and eating plenty of attention. 2 Peter 2 and the entirety of the letter of Jude focus on the presence of outsiders (non-believers; false teachers) at the meal table with the church. Consider 2 Peter 2:13, “They are blots and blemishes, delighting in their deceptions as they feast with you.” Also consider Jude 12, “These are the ones who are like dangerous reefs at your love feasts.” These authors could not bear to see the Christian identity of these churches and their members compromised by outsiders who were feasting with them at their weekly meetings.

The New Testament gives so much weight to these banquets that it uses them as an analogy for the Kingdom of God. What will it be like at the end of time when believers from all ages and locations are gathered together with their King? According to Jesus, there will be people coming from all over the place to “recline at the table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29). According to Revelation, it will be like a “marriage feast” (Rev. 19:9).

When this earth is destroyed and we enjoy life in the new heavens and earth, will we really sit around a table with other believers and enjoy a meal? That I cannot be certain of. But what I am certain of is that this meal concept is a great way to live life now and a great way to describe how it will be for all eternity. Whether we sit around a meal table, a conference table, or a Sunday school table, we should be spending time with brothers and sisters in Christ creating bonds and forming an identity based on Christ. And when we reach eternity, what a joy it will be to worship and fellowship with our Christian family forever.

Is anybody hungry now?

Christian Relationships

For the past few months I have been teaching through the letter of 1 Peter. I have been taking it slow and really delving into the Greek language and syntax, something I call teaching “seminary style.” I believe it has been very rewarding for myself and the church. It just goes to show that when you rush through a chapter or a book there is a lot you might be missing.

What is fascinating about 1 Peter is the way the first two and a half chapters can be outlined (1:3-3:12). After a brief introduction in 1:1-2, Peter goes on in 1:3-12 to explain to his audience how great their salvation is. He assures them that their “new birth into a living hope” (1:3) guarantees them of their salvation, which is “imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading,” and being “kept in heaven” for them (1:4)—no person or thing is ever going to take it away.

But guess what? With great privilege comes great responsibility. Peter goes on in 1:13-3:12 to explain to the believers three different relationships they have as a result of their salvation. First of all, in 1:13-21, they have a relationship with God, their Savior. In 1:15-16 Peter says that believers are to be holy in all their conduct. Why? Because God said so. More than once in Leviticus He said, “Be holy because I am holy.” In light of our salvation, we are to live holy lives in the sight of God.

Along the same lines, 1:17 commands believers to conduct themselves in fear. And all throughout 1 Peter, fear refers to a healthy fear of God. The fear of God is sometimes a confusing subject, which stems from the fact that it covers two extremes. On the one hand, to fear God means to honor Him and respect Him and be in awe of Him. But on the other hand, it does carry the idea of literal fear. Why should we be afraid of God? Because He is our judge (1:17); He is the One who holds our destiny in His hands. That in and of itself will make us honor Him and live in awe of Him, so you can see how the two extremes fit together.

So we see that the privilege of our salvation comes with the responsibility to live a life pleasing to God.

Secondly, in 1:22-2:10, Peter discusses a believer’s relationship with other believers (specifically their local church gathering). The main command is found in 1:22, “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” And if a group of believers truly loves one another, then, as commanded in 2:1, there will be no wickedness, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, or slander among them.

In 2:9a Peter reminds believers of who they are. As a group, as a church, as a local congregation, they are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession.” And then, in 2:9b, with his “so that…” statement, Peter gives us the reason for this. Why, as a group, are we God’s chosen people? “So that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.”

Here we see that the privilege of our salvation comes with the responsibility to love other believers and join them in praising God.

Finally, in 2:11-3:12, Peter addresses believers’ relationships with outsiders, those considered pagans, those who are not believers. He begins in 2:11-12 with an introductory statement commanding believers to “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles (non-believers), so that (purpose statement) in a case where they speak against you as those who do evil, they may, by observing your good works, glorify God in a day of visitation.” In this we see two things: (1) Our conduct needs to be outstanding and God-fearing whether we are among believers or non-believers, and (2) The goal of that conduct toward outsiders is so that they might observe our lifestyle and glorify God as a result (including their salvation.)

From 2:13-3:7, Peter goes on to give three specific examples. The first is a citizen’s relationship with the government. I know lots of people have a difficult time dealing with our current US government. Let me tell you something: It is no worse now than it was for Peter’s audience living in first-century Rome under the authority of Caesar and his client kings. And Peter’s command to believers is to submit to their government, even specifically to Caesar the emperor/king (3:13). Why should believers submit to pagan rulers, whether back then or still today? “For it is God’s will that you, by doing good, silence the ignorance of foolish people” (3:15). As God’s people we are to submit to our governing authorities. The only case in which this command is to be broken is when the government contradicts the word of God. When that becomes the situation, we should say with Peter and the apostles: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

The second example is within the master/slave relationship. The situation Peter has in mind is a believing slave under the authority of an unbelieving master. Peter commands slaves in this situation to submit to their masters (2:18), even if they are mistreated and are suffering. Why? Because by doing this they will be following the example of Christ, who also suffered unjustly (2:21-25.) Also, based on the introductory statement in 2:12 (see above), the intended result is for the master to observe the slaves behavior, understand that it is because of his relationship with Christ, and be converted.

The last example involves the husband/wife marriage relationship. In 3:1 wives are commanded to submit to their husbands. Once again, the situation Peter has in mind is that of a believing wife and an unbelieving husband. Why should a Christian wife submit to her unbelieving husband? Once again Peter has a “so that…” statement: “so that…they may be won over without a message by the way their wives live, when they observe your pure, reverent (God-fearing) lives” (3:1-2). In a similar fashion, husbands (believing husbands, that is), should show their wives “honor” (3:7). Why? Because both husbands and wives are “co-heirs of the grace of life.” Even though the Bible prescribes that the husband is the leader of the marriage and the family, both husband and wife stand on equal ground when it comes to Christ. Both are in need of His grace. They are co-heirs of eternal life.

In 3:8-12 Peter summarizes our relationships with outsiders, commanding us not to repay “evil for evil or insult for insult” (3:9) but to instead, as Jesus said, “Bless those who curse us.” In fact, Peter says that as believers we were “called for this” (3:9). Once again, it all goes back to the fact that no matter how we have been treated, our responsibility is to treat people in a manner that points them to Christ.

In this case, we see that our salvation comes with the responsibility to live our lives in a way that others, especially non-believers, can easily tell that we serve Christ and strive to please Him with every step we take and every word we speak.

When you think about it, that is a pretty good way to look at our relationships as believers. First of all, we have a relationship with our Savior. Because He has graciously saved us, He has expectations of us. We are not saved to sit around, we are saved to serve Him. Secondly, we have relationships with other believers. Fellow believers need to love one another earnestly and treat each other with respect. And finally, we also have relationships with those who are not part of the body of Christ. Our main goal when it comes to them is to see their repentance and salvation.

I know this might be a lot to take in, but take a second to think about it. I’m sure it won’t take you long to identify relationships you have that fit into these categories. And once you identify them, compare the way you handle those relationships with the way the word of God instructs us to. How do they match up? What may need to be changed? May we be challenged and may we be changed by God and His word!

Forget Me Not

stones

Well, as you may have noticed, I haven’t written a blog post in quite a while. That’s because it has been a busy summer, especially the end of July and the beginning of August. But I’m not complaining about that! In fact, I am celebrating it.

This summer, God has done some awesome things! He has done things for me, for my wife, for our families, for our church, and for our community. I hope you have seen God do some amazing things for you as well.

When God does amazing things for us and amongst us, do you know what we are prone to do? We may get real excited about it, tell others about it, and praise Him for it, but then the joy goes away and we forget all about it. When He does something awesome, it may draw us closer to Him for a while, but then we find ourselves slipping back away.

In Joshua 3, God did something great for His people, the Israelites. He worked wonders among them. This nation of people, which began with Abraham, had been waiting many years to get into the land God had promised them. Finally, in Joshua 3, they found themselves standing on the eastern bank of the Jordan River ready to enter the land. There was only one problem: how would they cross the river?

In 3:5 Joshua told the people to consecrate or sanctify themselves, for the next day God was going to work wonders among them. And that He did! When the priests carrying the ark of the covenant took just one step into the overflowing Jordan River, the flow ceased and the ground dried up. The water to the north began to stand up in a huge mass that extended back to the next city. The water to the south, which usually flowed to the Dead Sea, was no more. And the entire nation of God’s people crossed that river into the Promise Land on dry ground! What a miracle! What a wondrous thing God did for His people!

And you know what? God knew that many of them would soon forget about it. But He didn’t want to see that happen, so in Joshua 4:1-8 He commanded them to do something. Before the river resumed its flow, 12 men were sent to grab a stone from the middle of it. These 12 stones were set up as a memorial, so that those people, and even the generation to come, would never forget the wonders God worked on that day.

My hope is that everyone reading this has experienced the power and presence of the Lord in some way this summer. And whatever it is that He has done for you, my prayer is that you will not easily forget. As a way to remember, you may even consider setting up some type of memorial. Don’t forget what God has done for you. Don’t let it escape your memory. Don’t go on living like nothing happened. Remember what He has done. Think about it often. Live with the expectation that He will continue to do great things for you.

My Favorite New Testament Word

Today I want to tell you about one of, if not my favorite, words in the New Testament. I’ll warn you right from the start, it’s probably not what you think. It’s not one of those big words like propitiation or sanctification. It’s not the name of God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit. It’s not love or mercy or grace or peace. Of course all of those are great words, but my favorite word in the New Testament is only three letters long. In fact, in the original Greek language it is only two letters long! Are you ready for it? One of my favorite words in the New Testament is “but.”

“What do you mean?” you might ask. “How can but be one of your favorite words? It’s just a simple conjunction of contrast.” Yes, that is true, but a lot of times when the New Testament authors use it, it packs a powerful message. Consider Paul’s use of the word “but” in Ephesians 2:1-5, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath, as the others were also. BUT God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved!” (HCSB).

Paul also uses this conjunction in Romans 5:7-8. Talking about how Christ died for the ungodly in v6, he goes on to say, “For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. BUT God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!”

The apostle Peter also makes use of this word in 1 Peter 2:10. In fact, he uses it twice: “Once you were not a people, BUT now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, BUT now you have received mercy.”

Just from these three examples, I’m sure you can see why “but” is one of my favorite words. “But” is used by the New Testament authors to contrast our old lives as sinners with our new lives as saints. We all know that our lives before Christ weren’t pretty, BUT we also know that Jesus changes everything. In Christ we are a new creation, “old things have passed away, and look, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

“But” may be a short and simple word, yet its meaning is huge! It really represents a dividing line in our lives as believers. Each of us have that “BC” part of our life—the time before we knew Christ. Yet for all of us who are believers, we also have that BUT moment. As Paul said in Ephesians 2, we were dead in our trespasses and sins, BUT God made us alive! Now that is something to celebrate!

If you are reading this and you aren’t sure that you have experienced that “but” moment in your life, I would encourage you to talk to someone about that. There is no better feeling than to know that your sins have been forgiven and that eternal life has been guaranteed to you by the Creator of the universe.

And for all of you who can think back to that “but” moment in your life, that moment when you were made alive, that moment when Christ saved you, take a second right now to praise Him for that. In fact, try to praise Him for it everyday. It’s never a bad thing thank God for the “buts” of life. There is an old saying that goes something like this: “If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas.” All of our ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ won’t come true, but we know that one in particular did, and we have much more than a merry Christmas to show for it!